How to Use WordPress Widgets and Widget Areas

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posted on: February 12, 2018

Similar to WordPress menus, widgets are frequently confused and misunderstood. A WordPress Widget is a small block that performs a certain function – profile picture, twitter feed, subscription block, etc. You will find widget areas in sidebars, but they can be located elsewhere depending on the theme.

Organizing Your Widgets

Widgets can be added, removed and organized under APPEARANCE < WIDGETS. On the left-hand side of the screen, different widget possibilities are available. Depending on what plugins one uses, there can be more or fewer options. On the right side of the screen are different toggles, for selected widget areas.

The Difference Between Widgets and Widget Areas

For most blog themes, the sidebar is called, “MAIN SIDEBAR”.  Widget areas are dependent upon the theme, so if you are confused, make sure to read the description below each widget area. For my premade blog themes, they have two extra built-in widget areas – social media in the menu and a footer widget. For custom projects, sometimes I have up to 5 different widgets areas. Often this is the case when the client wants to integrate seamlessly advertising opportunities within the theme.

Selecting Sidebar Widgets

Sidebars should provide secondary information that support your content and foster longer user engagement. I strongly recommend these widgets on all sidebars:

  • A profile picture and/or blurb describing the blog/greeting
  • Subscription to either email RSS/newsletter
  • Search box – if not elsewhere on the page
  • Terms/Policy – if not a separate page

Those four things aren’t really fun or exciting, but they provide a valuable information to your readers. To increase page clicks to other content within your website, these widget areas present your content in a unique manner:

  • Popular Posts Widget – Example: Here’s The Skinny
  • Stylized call outs to posts or content found elsewhere on the page (like categories) – Example: Omnivore’s Cookbook
  • Category, Archives, or Tag Cloud widgets – i.e. My Featured Topics

Sidebar Advertisements

Users leave the site when they click an advertisement, and therefore, it is important to be very mindful how and where advertisements are included. If part of an affiliate program, you might not have a choice.

JetPack

Jetpack for WordPress is the plugin that allows you to enjoy the best features of WordPress.com on self-hosted sites. Jetpack is a plugin by Automattic, the makers of WordPress.com. I really could dedicate an entire post to Jetpack (there’s so much to it!), but in relation to your Widget Areas, these settings are the post valuable:

Extra Sidebar Widgets: This module allows you to add extra widgets to your sidebar including galleries, Facebook like box, image widgets, social media icons, and RSS links.

Widget Visibility: This module allows you to determine when widgets show up on your website. For example, you might only want certain widgets displayed on the home page and several ones displayed on individual posts. This module has the power to improve your engagement if you are thoughtful and purposeful with how you use it.

Subscriptions: Let’s say you aren’t ready to make the jump to Mailchimp, you can use the subscriptions module to ensure that subscribers can read your posts by email. All you have to do is activate it!

My Favorite Plugins for Extra Sidebar Widgets

  • Instagram Widget: Lots of different layout customizations!
  • Minimalist Twitter Widget: The cleanest, non-twitter looking widget
  • JetPack: Everyone should have Jetpack installed on their WordPress blog or website. Jetpack includes a featured called – Extra Sidebar Widgets – which comes with several different options of ways you can integrate content into your sidebar without using several plugins.
  • WordPress Popular Posts – an extremely customizable widget that displays popular posts.

Here’s the thing to remember about the WordPress Widget area (and Menu): If you are making edits to this section, you aren’t going to crash your theme. You might do something small, and your site look a little wonky, but you won’t break your site. If you want to add a few things to your sidebar, go ahead and play around!

You Might Also Like: How to Add Instagram Widget to Your WordPress Blog + Jetpack

Want more WordPress tutorials? Check out more posts!

Editor's Note

Some of the links included throughout this website are affiliate links, which means that Lindsay Humes LLC receives a small commission when certain items are purchased. These affiliate links provide a means for the site to earn revenue and generate free content for readers. For more details, read the privacy policy here.

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